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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Perfection and St. Bernard Again and such things as RCIA, family, cakes, and the Jesuits

Without the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bernard, I would not have started this journey towards perfection, to which God calls us. St. Bernard is able, in his writings, to be both practical and spiritual. For example. he writes that if we want to gain souls for Christ, people must be "reservoirs and not mere channels". Humphreys picks this up in his book when referring to the Jesuits. And, I apply it to the laity, as the Society of Jesus is called to work in the city and market-place and be contemplatives in the world.

Firstly, as the Jesuits are called to perfect themselves and each other in the Order, so too each member of a family is called to help each one become perfect.

Do we think of this in our families? We must concentrate on being perfect ourselves, for as St. Bernard states, we must be reservoirs. If the lake is empty, no one gets water. If we are not living in sanctifying grace, we cannot help others.

Contemplation allows us to find, ultimately, union with God and, therefore, be able to reach out to our neighbours, beyond family life. Humphreys notes that the Society of Jesus had this goal of perfecting others, not merely correcting them or converting them. This is the second point.

This point is key. Not merely correction nor conversion. The new evangelism must be followed up with the steps of perfection. One cannot end catechesis with the Creed, but move on, as the original mystagogia did in ancient times, to the mysteries of prayer and the Life of Christ. I do not know one RCIA program in England or Eire which has the mystagogia program such as I taught in the States. Correct me if I am wrong about this oversight. That mystagogia is the time for the deepening and moving on from the original conversion experience.

There is much confusion on these points among the laity. The active life must come from the contemplative basis of prayer and meditation. Nothing else joins each one of us with the Holy Spirit in a constant way than prayer in meditation and contemplation. This is the third point here today. No action is truly efficacious without this movement in the soul of deep, mental prayer.

Some lay persons think we are not called to this. We are. This is the sublime call given to each one of us at baptism. Humphreys, basing his ideas on Suarez, writes: "The contemplative life is therefore the source and principle of such actions in their perfection."

To put it negatively, no meditation, no contemplation = no perfection.

What does this mean? Prioritizing. Teaching your children to set aside at least one hour of prayer a day, by starting small and building up time. Allowing your spouse space to develop a life of meditation and contemplation. Giving time to God.

One of the most unfortunate things to happen in the past forty years has been the number of mothers and housewives going out to work instead of being stay-at-home moms. As a stay-at-home mom for a while, I had time in the day to develop a habit of quiet and prayer while working and teaching in the home school. A mother who does this can then give time to the husband for his prayer. They must help each other. Married people who have regular prayer time do not get burnt-out and need less vacations, as the restorative time in prayer allows them this rest.

I think of my old, Irish bachelor friend whose brother married in order to have someone with whom to say the rosary. The old brother was being criticized by the priest for wanting to get married again after his wife died. The old man wanted someone to pray with him. Not a bad reason for getting married--this man understood the priority of prayer in life. He did get married again, and the new wife did say the rosary with him daily. Meditation leads to contemplation and the rosary is a means of meditation. This old couple were working towards perfection. They were really old, yet tying to live out the real vocation of prayer in the world.

One of the nuns told me she joined the order because it was easier to pray when one was in a community. Absolutely true...but we must carve out of our days the same rhythm of prayer and work. I know a man who is a medical specialist with six children. The house he leads is a house of prayer. This may mean no television, no chilling out by merely sitting, but a habit of meditation and contemplation. And, he is on call, as he works for two hospitals. A habit of prayer leads to perfection. There is no other way. I know a med student who prays at least four hours of the breviary in his horribly, busy day. There is no other way. I know a house-wife and mother of six, (six is a common number among my friends), who prays almost constantly in a quiet habit. The family has had family rosary before bed-time for years and years.  There is no other way.

One of the terrible things of the new activity of the laity in the Church is that many lay persons think that activity is the way to heaven, and that meditation and contemplation are icing on the cake. It is the other way around. Meditation and contemplation are the cake and activity is the icing.

Stop doing so much and start being more.

To be continued....